OLYMPIA, Wash. — Drivers who just can’t resist tapping out a text message could be pulled over by police under a bill approved Wednesday by the state House.
The measure also institutes a ban on all cell phone use for licensed drivers under 18, allowing police to stop those younger drivers even if they’re using a headset.
But the state’s current ban on making calls with a handheld cell phone while driving would remain a secondary offense, meaning police can write up the $124 ticket only if they stop a driver for some other offense.
The bill was approved on an 86-12 vote Wednesday night, with lawmakers saying the step is necessary to improve road safety.
The definition of texting under the bill includes reading, writing or sending text messages. There are exceptions for emergencies in both the adult and under-18 provisions.
The state Senate previously approved a stricter version of the bill — cell phone use without a headset would have been a primary offense under that approach — so the measure must head back to the Senate for more debate.
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the Legislature should send a message that young drivers must not be distracted.
“Mobile phones have permeated every aspect of life,” Carlyle said. “But when it comes to public safety, when it comes to young people, when it comes to the reality of decisions that they make, this legislation is an important step forward.”
Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said his preference for less government intrusion in private decisions initially made him skeptical of the bill.
But Roach said conversations with young constituents and parents convinced him the cell phone ban for young drivers was the right choice.
“Enforcement may be a little difficult,” Roach said. “But I still think this is a good step.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures has said that Washington is one of six states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws regulating cell phone use by drivers, but is the only one that considers the use of a phone without a handsfree device a secondary offense.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.